Although television (TV) viewing is frequently paired with snacking among young children, little is known about the environment in which caregivers promote this behaviour. We describe low-income pre-schoolers’ snacking and TV viewing habits as reported by their primary caregivers, including social/physical snacking contexts, types of snacks and caregiver rationales for offering snacks. These findings may support the development of effective messages to promote healthy child snacking.
Semi-structured interviews assessed caregiver conceptualizations of pre-schoolers’ snacks, purpose of snacks, snack context and snack frequency.
Interviews occurred in Boston, Massachusetts and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA.
Forty-seven low-income multi-ethnic primary caregivers of children aged 3–5 years (92 % female, 32 % Hispanic/Latino, 34 % African American) described their child’s snacking in the context of TV viewing.
TV viewing and child snacking themes were described consistently across racial/ethnic groups. Caregivers described snacks offered during TV viewing as largely unhealthy. Labels for TV snacks indicated non-nutritive purposes, such as ‘time out’, ‘enjoyment’ or ‘quiet.’ Caregivers’ primary reasons for providing snacks included child’s expectations, behaviour management (e.g. to occupy child) and social time (e.g. family bonding). Some caregivers used TV to distract picky children to eat more food. Child snacking and TV viewing were contextually paired by providing child-sized furniture (‘TV table’) specifically for snacking.
Low-income caregivers facilitate pre-schoolers’ snacking and TV viewing, which are described as routine, positive and useful for non-nutritive purposes. Messages to caregivers should encourage ‘snack-free’ TV viewing, healthy snack options and guidance for managing children’s behaviour without snacks or TV.